Since I always write about current issues relevant to improving quality of life globally, I thought I’d take a departure today. There’s a lot about myself that I know and always think about, but I’ve always refrained from discussing with people or writing about such things. One of those things is my bloodline, which I only discuss with a few family members who don’t mind or are in fact interested in talking about it. Over the past ten years, I’ve sought to learn more and more about my big family and its roots, which are incredibly diverse. I have asked elders about their past, analyzed thinking patterns of some family members and their causes, and estimated what’s in me, genetically speaking. So here’s my story.
As most people who’ve met or known me may know, I’m from the Dominican Republic, a country that shares the eastern two-thirds of the island I like to call by what its original inhabitants, the Taino and other indigenous people, knew it as: Quisqueya. Though I wasn’t born in the Dominican Republic, my entire family is from that country and I’ve lived enough years there to know the Dominican way of life and consider myself Dominican (especially since I intend to live there again in the future).
Now, anybody who knows a little bit about the Dominican Republic knows how diverse it is in terms of the physical character of its people. The current inhabitants are descendants of Tainos, Africans, Spanish, and even Asians. Unlike other diverse countries where you have immigrants form diverse communities, the inhabitants of the Dominican Republic have actually been mixing for centuries now, and so the mixture is much more punctuated than many other countries with diverse populations. In any given family, it’s not atypical to find skin colors ranging from black to white and everything in between, heights ranging from below average to very tall, and even spoken Spanish ranging from formal to very Dominican slang. And although there’s a huge mix, few people recognize it or even appreciate their bloodlines, prefering certain physical characteristics over others even if most of their genetic makeup may side with what they deem undesirable.
When it comes to me, I’ve been able to draw out my bloodline pretty well, ranging to about three (3) generations back, which would put all I know about where I come from to the late 19th century, when the population in the Dominican Republic was just above 500,000, down from 10 million today. From what I’ve learned, my most immediate family members are all from the Eastern part of the country, specifically from the provinces of El Seibo, La Altagracia, La Romana, Samana, and San Pedro de Macoris.
From my mother’s side, the bloodline has a Spanish and Taino makeup. My grandmother from my mother’s side was completely Taino, with no mixture whatsoever, and of course so were my great-grandparents from my mom’s side. The picture to the left is my young grandmother, which must have been taken around 1950. That entire part of my family is from the rural areas of the province of La Romana, very near to the sugar cane fields used to produce sugar, for reasons my mother does not know.
My grandfather, my mother’s father, was a Spanish descendant on the other hand, who owned a lot of land in El Seibo and in La Romana, all under agricultural production, which was the main economic activity at the time. His entire family, from the stories my uncles tell me, inherited a great deal of land that they eventually sold, including land today owned by hotel establishments (including Reina Cumayasa if anybody is interested in knowing). Of all that land, which from the descriptions ranged in the thousands of acres, including significant portions of prime coastline, about 50 acres remain, which is now owned by my mother and her brothers. My grandfather was a well-known farmer in El Seibo and La Romana during his times, and I was honored to grow up seeing him every day as he walked about 1km to my home at 8am sharp to say hello to my mother and I and drink his morning coffee (see him below carrying me; next to him is my grandmother).
From my father’s side, the bloodline is a lot more mixed, with African, Spanish, and Taino all mixed up. Moreover, the size of the family is a lot bigger on this side, and the mysteries are even bigger as my grandparents continue to tell me stories I didn’t know about. On this front, my family comes from La Altagracia, La Romana, Samana, and San Pedro de Macoris. My grandmother from my father’s side, which is a very interesting person for those who have met her, has a mix of African, Spanish, and Taino. Both of their parents, my grandparents, come from La Altagracia, and also owned a significant amount of land there, all handed over by previous governments for agricultural purposes. My great-grandmother came from African and Spanish predecessors, while my great-grandfather, well-known in his times and respected by my entire family, had indigenous roots.
My grandmother, who grew up in rural communities around the Chavon River in La Altagracia, has a very interesting story to tell, which includes a lot of traditional thoughts and practices involving sacred beliefs, some of which she still claims to practice today sometimes. All of these she learned from her father, who supposedly he also shared with his family in El Seibo and Samana. Eventually, my grandmother, their parents, and her 10+ brothers and sisters all moved west to La Romana, San Pedro de Macoris, and Santo Domingo, where many are today.
My grandfather, on the other hand, has pure African roots. My grandfather’s mother grew up in Puerto Rico, while his father grew up in St. Thomas at a time when it was either British owned or had a strong British presence. That’s where my family’s English last name comes from. My grandfather assumes his father was a slave at the time, back in the late 19th century. Somehow, both his mother and his father ended up in the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in a town called Sanchez in the province of Samana, where my grandfather and his brothers and sisters grew up. These people are known historically as “cocolos” because of the English connection. From there, they all had the opportunity to travel to the United States, where they established in New York City and spread from there to other areas of that country. My grandfather met my grandmother in La Romana when my grandmother escaped from her father in a rural community of Chavon because she felt old enough to marry, something which with my grandfather disagreed. One night, she decided to walk all the way from Chavon to La Romana at night to escape from her father, and along the way, she stopped in a rural community where a brother was, and that’s where she met my grandfather.
So, to sum it up, my mother’s makeup is Taino with some Spanish, while my father’s makeup is very mixed. So my genetic makeup, as a result, is also highly mixed with those three lineages. I’m proud of all three lineages, and I wished Dominican society embraced all three equally and respectfully. In addition to having learned about my bloodline, I’ve also learned significantly about the indigenous people who lived in the Caribbean islands prior to European colonization. The rich history those people left constantly leave me wondering why it’s not explored more deeply, why it’s not appreciated more strongly, and why it’s not honored as it should by Dominican society and its government. Being more closely associated with my mother, I feel more closely tied to my indigenous heritage (which by the way includes many different indigenous people from the Caribbean, not just one united people) than anything else, in spite of being proud and defensive of my entire bloodline. I have come to appreciate and live by the their sacrificing and service-oriented ways, and I hope some day that appreciation can be extended to the level it deserves in Dominican society.